Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

The Book of Strange New Things It begins with Peter, a devoted man of faith, as he is called to the mission of a lifetime, one that takes him galaxies away from his wife, Bea. Peter becomes immersed in the mysteries of an astonishing new environment, overseen by an enigmatic corporation known only as USIC. His work introduces him to a seemingly friendly native population struggling with a dangerous illness and hungry for Peter’s teachings—his Bible is their “book of strange new things.” But Peter is rattled when Bea’s letters from home become increasingly desperate: typhoons and earthquakes are devastating whole countries, and governments are crumbling. Bea’s faith, once the guiding light of their lives, begins to falter.

Suddenly, a separation measured by an otherworldly distance, and defined both by one newly discovered world and another in a state of collapse, is threatened by an ever-widening gulf that is much less quantifiable. While Peter is reconciling the needs of his congregation with the desires of his strange employer, Bea is struggling for survival. Their trials lay bare a profound meditation on faith, love tested beyond endurance, and our responsibility to those closest to us.

This is not Crimson Petal and the White, so if you go into it thinking that’s what you’re going to get, you’ll be disappointed. This is, however, a fascinating novel that leaves the reader with many questions.

Faber’s writing style always captures my attention. There’s something about the way he structures his scenes, even his sentences, that make the novel read smoothly and without allowing it to become dull even once. For a book of the size this one is, this is a great virtue. 

I enjoyed his descriptions of Oasis and its inhabitants, because although he paints a vivid picture, he doesn’t bog down the narrative with too much description. In fantasy or sci fi novels this can be tricky to achieve. The only thing that was slightly frustrating was the insertion of strange characters to represent the way the Oasans pronounced certain words. I understand what it’s supposed to stand for, but it makes the reading experience less smooth. It’s a bit distracting. 

The characters are not too likeable, so don’t expect to fall in love with any of them. I particularly didn’t enjoy Bea, who becomes a whiny brat as the story progresses, but Peter, with his incessant Bible quoting is no fieldtrip either. Still, they are real characters who have faults and dimensions, which allow them to pop out of the narrative. 

This is a novel that I really do recommend.

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